In the age of bingeable television, Forensic Files is one of those television series that ranks top of the list, both in quantity and quality. Debuting on TLC in 1996, it was originally called Medical Detectives. Over 400 episodes exist, each dealing with how science is used to solve suspected crimes. I say suspected because not every episode deals with a crime; many times, suspects are vindicated by forensics and circumstances, often revealing what was originally thought of as a crime was nothing more than a tragic accident. Regardless, the series is highly addictive and is a real treasure trove of information and story prompts for writers.
We can thank the O.J. Simpson murder trial for the general public’s growing interest in forensics. Many of us caught the daily courtroom proceedings of the trial, and news services bent over backwards to make sure viewers had a working knowledge of the terminology used in the case. There’s a certain kind of drama when dealing with real crimes, the tension of the case itself, as well as the suspense of wondering if the criminal was indeed smart enough to elude the police, if they will ‘get away with it’, that captivates people beyond the usual water-cooler conversations. We love the gory details as well as the execution of justice, as well as the horror of court-room blunders and legal technicalities that eventually incarcerate innocent people, or allow criminals free to be out on the streets again, smug and confident. Sometimes, the bad guys win, and we can’t stand it.
The half-hour episodes are chock full of real science, featuring interviews with doctors and medical examiners, as well as other experts in their fields. The show does it’s very best to make complex techniques and procedures as relatable as possible, which is probably part of the reason why the show is so popular. It makes the science easy to digest. For horror writers, this is a wealth of information, especially if you’re dealing with a crime scene. Research can be a real drag sometimes, but Forensic Files makes it informative as well as entertaining.
Another interesting aspect of the show is the story prompts. Humans are strange creatures of habit, and it’s amazing to see quite intelligent and capable people make very human errors that puts them behind bars. Some of the storylines are quite common, yet the details, specifically the details that deal with relationships and the motives behind their destruction, can be enlightening. Whenever someone says the phrase, you just can’t make this stuff up, they’re usually right when they’re talking about this series, and that’s where you come in as writer. It may be true, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take what’s real and spin it with an unreliable narrator, or an unsettled reality. The possibilities are limitless.
Forensic Files is available on DVD and multiple streaming formats, including Hulu in the US, and Amazon Prime in a “Best of” series across all seasons. Regardless how you decide to consume this series, it’s one of the most watchable shows that can actually provide you a great springboard for research and unlock creativity with story prompts, all while being thoroughly entertaining.